The Poison-Pill Relationship: The Narcissist

When Elise met Albert, she was swept off her feet.  He was unlike any man she had met before.  He quickly showed himself to be brilliant, self-confident, admirable in any way she could think of. 

And he showered her with attention.  He couldn’t do enough for her.  Flowers, dinners at fancy restaurants, sexual ecstasy—the relationship was unbelievable. 

Elise flattered Albert constantly, and she sincerely meant everything he said.  He just could do no wrong, and she wanted to be sure he knew it. 

Elise realized she had been presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  When Albert proposed, Elise was ecstatic. She couldn’t believe that she had landed herself such a dream boat.

 The dream didn’t last long.  Or rather, it turned, step-by-step, into a nightmare. 

Elise realized something was wrong as soon as the honeymoon, when she started to notice that Albert was just incredibly controlling. 

How could she not have noticed it before? What she had seen as self-confidence now seemed more like arrogance.  He just “knew” he was right. 

But there was something empty about his arrogance.  He constantly needed to be reminded of how important he was—how wonderful and unique.

During the dating phase, Elise had been eager to remind him.  But now that they were married, she was seeing his need for admiration as excessive, indeed, as pathological. And when she crossed him, most likely, accidentally, he acted as though she had committed a mortal sin. 

He expected her to do his bidding and not to make what he called “blunders,” at least, not with respect to the way she acted toward him. 

She began to feel that she was not so much a wife as an audience—an audience that was expected to be ever-fawning. 

And he had even once on the honeymoon called her a “blunderer!” He was constantly reminding her of every little thing that she did wrong or, he claimed, that she was unable to do.

 The worst part was that Albert didn’t seem actually to care a whole lot about her beyond her being his admiration society. 

When she talked about her problems, he did not seem interested.  When she talked about her personal aspirations, he was tuned out. 

She wondered how she could not have noticed during the courtship phase. On the one hand, everything had seemed so perfect. On the other hand, every sign of his excessive self-preoccupation had been there. She just had chosen not to see those signs. 

 Elise started reading some psychology books and articles, and she soon knew she had made a horrible mistake.  She had married a narcissist. 

And she also discovered that while some psychological issues—anxiety and depression, for example--were treatable with fairly high rates of success—narcissism, or what she construed as narcissism, was not one of those easily treatable issues. 

By the end of their first year of marriage, she was contemplating whether divorce would be possible.  There was no way this marriage was going to work.

Some relationships prove to offer you a poison pill. The problem with poison-pill relationships is that you don’t see what they are when you first get into them.

They are the poison pill that you don’t realize was poison until after you’ve swallowed it and it’s begun to release its poison.

Characteristics of a narcissistic person

One of those poison pills is the narcissist.  Narcissism has been on the upswing in society, for whatever reason, and Elise had landed herself a doozy.

DSM-V—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association—Fifth Edition—describes characteristics of the narcissist.  Albert fits the pattern, whether or not he would be considered clinically diagnosable.

Here is what you don’t want in a relationship.  Look out for these attributes, because if you find too many of them, you may want to head for the hills as fast as you can!

1. A grandiose sense of self-importance—the world, even the universe, should center around the narcissistic individual.

For the narcissist, the world exists to serve them.  They look at relationships not as partnerships, but rather as about them and as about fulfilling their needs.

2. Preoccupation with grand fantasies of incredible success, unlimited power, incomparable brilliance.

They imagine themselves to be someone who is utterly successful, even uniquely successful.  They have more than made it.  They have “killed” it. They expect others to see them the same way.

Albert even had a fantasy about perfect love, but for him, perfect love was a spouse who would serve him and fulfill his every need for admiration and subservience.

3. A belief that the individual is completely special, indeed unique, and that only people of their status could possibly understand them.

Other people are scarcely worth their time unless they are also completely special.  They want to interact with others like themselves, who of course are difficult to find.

4. Need for fawning admiration.

Narcissists expect incredibly high levels of admiration, respect, and obedience.  They have no use for people who are not loyal members of their fan club.  They will turn on those who fail their expectations, no matter how much the others have done for them in the past.

5. Extreme sense of entitlement.

The term “hubris” might have been invented for narcissists.  They view themselves as entitled, much like the royalty of times past.

They believe they have earned this entitlement but are not reflective in the least as to what they have done to earn the entitlement.  They simply expect it because of who they are.  Indeed, narcissists are rarely reflective except as it pertains to their own self-aggrandizement.

6. Exploitation of others.

Narcissists are exploitative, but they do not see themselves this way.  They see others as there to serve them. As that is why the others are there.

Narcissists see themselves as reasonable in their demands.  They are merely expecting others to do what those others should do, indeed, must do.

7. Severe lack of empathy.

Narcissists lack empathy for others.  They just don’t feel for others, because they are preoccupied with themselves.

8. Envy. 

Narcissists tend to envy others and often feel that others are envious of them.  What others have they want, and they certainly deserve.

So why do the others have things they want but don’t have?  The narcissist should have them!

 9. Extreme arrogance.

Narcissists are very arrogant.  They know they are better than others and see no need to hide it.  If the others don’t recognize the narcissist’s superiority, the others are idiots.

What do you do when you're with a narcissist?

How many of these attributes does your partner have?  Narcissists generally don’t have just one of two of these attributes. They have all, or almost all of them.

If you are with a narcissist, they are almost certainly not going to change any time soon.  This is not a case where you are going to be able to “work on it.”  You are not going to be able to change them.

If you decide you want to stay in the relationship and give it another try, the only thing you can do is work on yourself. Remind yourself that your partner's inflated ego is hiding a very fragile side of them, and that they're really afraid of their own inadequacy. Have compassion for their fears and insecurities.

At the same time, be an equal partner. There is no need for you to back off and play the role of the inferior partner, because you're not! Face your partner with self-esteem and insist on treating each other as equals.

So, if you are with a narcissist, you have a decision to make.  What will your decision be?

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